Hillary Clinton Has a Vagina and So Do I

Erica C. Barnett

Erica Barnett ponders whether she is obligated to vote for Hillary Clinton based on gender alone.

Should women support Hillary Clinton?

As a progressive, a feminist, and a chick, my support for Clinton is presumed. After all, I have a vagina. So does she. I want to see a woman president. She's a woman. I support choice, reproductive services, expanded women's health care, pay parity. She says she'll deliver all those things.

The thing is, though, so does John Edwards-someone I've supported since well before he became John Kerry's vice-presidential pick in 2004. I like Edwards because he emphasizes poverty, social justice, and ending corporate welfare. Of all the candidates, his positions are most in line with my beliefs. His campaign promises-ending corporate welfare, eliminating tax giveaways to the wealthiest two percent of Americans, implementing a just system of health care for all-are most in line with what I want.

But like almost everyone who is not a straight, white, Christian male, I've dreamed of having someone in the White House who looks like me. This is more than simplistic identity politics. Yes, it's identity politics, but it's not simple.

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We live in a country where identity still, to a huge extent, shapes experience. A black person understands better than me what it's like to experience racism; a gay person understands what it's like to be denied basic rights because of your sexuality. And I feel that we need to put someone in the White House who understands that eight years of George W. Bush has devastated women's status in this country-and who will prioritize putting things right.

Clinton articulated this argument brilliantly October 22 during an appearance in front of the Washington State Democrats at Benaroya Hall. "There are two groups that inspire me to keep going," Clinton said. "One is women in their 90s who come to my events… They all say something like, 'I'm 95 years old. I was born before women could vote in this country and I'm going to live long enough to see a woman in the White House.' The other group is the children who come… I see a parent lean over to a daughter and say, 'See, honey? In this country you can be anything you want to be.'"

Cheesy? Trite? Sure. But compelling to many women, including Linda Mitchell, board chair for the Washington State Women's Political Caucus. In a letter to WPC members, Mitchell said that while Clinton's positions on health care, the environment, and choice were appealing, "I'm not going to lie: The reality is that for me, it's time. For the first time we have a strong, viable, qualified woman who CAN be president, who is giving it her all, and who has a real shot at winning. And it's time for feminists to step up and make it happen."

Edie Gillis, political director for Progressive Majority of Washington, has a similar take. She says she supports Clinton not for her political platform-"I'm probably a little more liberal"-but because Clinton is a woman. "All of the little differences between the candidates are meaningless to me," Gillis says. "For me, it's a precedent-setting thing. I just got married, I'm thinking about starting a family, and if I have a daughter, I want to be able to tell her that there's a woman in the White House. It would totally change the way we look at the presidency."

But, again, so would a truly liberal president like John Edwards. After decades of Republican rule, centrism, and triangulation, Edwards promises a return to the progressive tradition on which the Democratic Party was founded. It's hard to turn my back on that possibility. With Edwards trailing in the polls, Clinton is starting to seduce many who are wary of her centrist politics and corporate contributions-including many feminists.

But not all-and with good reason.

Although both Clinton and Edwards voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002, only Edwards has fully recanted, saying bluntly in a Washington Post op-ed: "I was wrong." His emphasis on poverty and improving the living conditions of all Americans would disproportionately benefit women, who make up the bulk of those living in poverty and earning the minimum wage. He has also been more explicit about which taxes he would raise to keep the deficit under control: He would eliminate Bush's tax cuts for the richest 2 percent of Americans, those earning more than around $200,000 a year. And he would increase taxes on capital gains and windfall profits taxes on oil companies.

Two prominent feminist bloggers-Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon and Melissa McEwan of Shakespeare's Sister-have been vocal about their support for Edwards and lack of enthusiasm for Clinton. Back in February, after the Edwards campaign hired both Marcotte and McEwan, the pair came under fire by religious-right bigot Bill Donohue for being "anti-Catholic." After several days of indecision from the Edwards campaign, both women resigned. However, both Marcotte and McEwan have maintained their support for Edwards, asserting that he better represents the interests of women and progressives.

McEwan argues that because Edwards has daughters and a wife, Elizabeth, whose health-care needs are greater than most Americans', he "has nearly as much reason to be as keen on women's issues as… Hillary, who is also no doubt motivated by her daughter's needs in the future." She points to a 2005 study by researchers at Yale University that found that male politicians with daughters were actually more likely to focus on "women's issues" than female candidates. And, McEwan continues, "I'm not going to support a female Democrat just because she's a woman. Hillary is an especially tough case for me, because I really, really like her as a person… But some of her positions, and particularly her corporatism, rub me completely the wrong way."

Me, too-to the point that, until recently, I said I'd only support Clinton if she got the nomination, and only grudgingly. But my old childhood fantasy-the idea that, in my lifetime, a woman could be president-is pushing me slowly in Clinton's direction.

Putting Hillary Clinton in the White House would change presidential priorities. Yes, Edwards has a pro-choice platform-Barack Obama too. Yes, both believe in expanding family and medical leave and implementing policies that close the pay gap between men and women. In fact, on most issues that matter to women in particular, the three frontrunners hold virtually identical positions.

But although Edwards and Obama may agree with Clinton on many things, I believe that-as a progressive woman-Clinton would be far more likely to prioritize women and children than any candidate who has never been a woman or a mother. No, a President Condoleezza Rice or Elizabeth Dole wouldn't prioritize women; in fact, they'd probably roll back women's rights to please the sexist, retrograde, increasingly fundamentalist base of the party they belong to. But Clinton's a Democrat. Moreover, she's made women's issues the cornerstone of her campaign. To say she'll make them the cornerstone of her presidency isn't sexism; it's pragmatism.

Women's issues matter in this election-perhaps more than at any other time in the last 30 years. During his years as president, George W. Bush has dramatically eroded the rights of women and children at home and abroad. On his first day in office, Bush signed the "global gag rule," denying U.S. aid to any organization that provides abortions or information about abortions (responding to patients' questions about their options, for example)-a decision that has led to the dismantling of reproductive services around the world, and to countless deaths worldwide. He supported the so-called Partial-Birth Abortion Ban, and appointed two of the Supreme Court justices who subsequently upheld it as the law of the land. He pressured the FDA to bar the over-the-counter sales of emergency contraception, ignoring the recommendations of two FDA panels. He supported legislation that would redefine embryos as "individuals" with the same human rights as living people. He promoted misleading and inaccurate abstinence-only education programs whose only effect was to reduce the number of sexually active teens who use birth control. He even appointed an anti-contraception activist to head the federal family-planning office.

Because these are women's issues, it makes sense that a woman candidate would view them as her issues. And Clinton does. It's why she has spoken out against countries that ignore human trafficking and forced prostitution. It's why she sponsored legislation that would make family-planning services, including emergency contraception, more accessible to low-income women and require insurance companies to pay for birth control. It's why she supported allowing pharmacies to sell EC over the counter (and blocked confirmation of the new FDA chief until it was approved). It's why she introduced a bill that would make EC available to all women in America's armed services. It's why she opposed the noxious "global gag rule." It's why she sponsored legislation aimed at ending the pay gap between men and women. It's why she wants to implement a universal pre-kindergarten program. It's why she wants to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act and implement paid maternity-leave programs in every state by 2016. It's why she wants to require all health-care companies to cover prescription birth control in their plans. It's why she wants to outlaw "maternal profiling"-the practice in some companies of making pay and promotion decisions based on the assumption that women will have babies.

And it's why she's said things like, "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life."

Republicans lambasted Clinton for her cookie comment in 1992.

In the 15 years since, they've elevated Clinton to a sort of superstar villain, a malevolent bogeywoman who personifies all their darkest fears. At a recent Republican debate in Florida, the Republican presidential hopefuls couldn't stop talking about Clinton-to the point that they hardly spent any time at all talking about their own campaigns. Mitt Romney said Clinton "hasn't even run a corner store." Rudy Giuliani said America "can't afford" a Clinton presidency. And John McCain made a crack about her proposal to fund a Woodstock museum, saying, "I'm sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event."

In attacking Clinton, her critics on the right reveal how ugly, sexist, and antiwoman they really are. When she speaks in support of expanded civil rights, including adoption rights, for gays and lesbians, they insinuate that she's gay. When she fails to dress in Armani, à la Nancy Pelosi, they attack her for being "dowdy." When she doesn't act appropriately feminine, they call her a "man." (In fairness, they also call Obama and Edwards women.) When Michelle Obama makes an aside that "if you can't run your own house, you can't run the White House," the right-wing noise machine turns it into a manufactured "catfight."

When Clinton campaigns aggressively, they compare her to a "hellish housewife" who "just won't stop nagging you." When she doesn't come down hard enough on an issue, they insist that she isn't aggressive enough to be president. They accuse her of trotting out a manufactured "maternal" side. They even try to make her look like an ice queen for giving away her cat. And finally, when they have nothing else to say, they criticize her laugh-sorry, make that "cackle." Anyone who inspires this much hysteria among Republicans is all right with me.

On the other hand, some women argue that the very reason I like Clinton is reason enough to ditch her. Many women (and men) describe her as "divisive," and call her (despite polls that show her with a solid lead among Democrats and some support among Republican women) "the only Democrat who could lose this election." Sue Evans, media relations coordinator for Pyramid Communications and a Democrat, says that while she doesn't "think anybody questions Hillary's ability to do the job, it's the fear of not getting the White House back after what this country has been through that's the concern. I want the White House."

And many smart, liberal women who support candidates other than Clinton make a good point: She isn't as progressive as some of her fellow frontrunners. She supported the Defense of Marriage Act. She cosponsored the flag-burning amendment. And she supported legislation that some say opens the door for military action in Iran.

Like many liberals, I'm disturbed by all those votes, but here's where I run into a big "But." Democrats of late could not be accused of making the perfect the enemy of the good. We nominated John Kerry, for fuck's sake, and supported him wholeheartedly. So are we holding Clinton to a higher standard, and if so, can we see beyond her gender to her electability and fitness to govern? And are we, as women, holding Clinton to an unattainable standard? As Clinton supporter Mitchell puts it, "If not now, then when? If we're waiting for the perfect woman candidate, we're never going to get a woman president." City Council Member Sally Clark, a recent Clinton convert, thinks Clinton may "get called 'shrill,' a 'shrew,' and a 'bitch' because she's aggressive and knows what she wants and is really focused. It's not like she gets up on the platform and rages."

Feminist writers and political activists have debated themselves to death about whether being a woman means supporting Clinton. I don't think it does. As a woman, however, I believe Clinton will do right by me on issues that matter to women-which is an entirely different thing than supporting a candidate because of her gender.

I'll still support Edwards if he gets the nomination-an outcome that seems less and less likely in light of the Clinton juggernaut. But if it's Clinton, I'll support her enthusiastically. As a feminist and a woman, I'm ready to see someone who shares my values and my gender in the White House. It's about time.

This article was originally published in The Stranger.

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

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